Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.
The three national police forces – the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police – have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces report to the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, members of racial and indigenous groups and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.
The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that state-level civil and military police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that police killed 6,416 persons nationwide in 2020, compared with 6,351 persons in 2019 – only a 0.3 percent increase but the highest number of deaths ever recorded. During the year 17 of the 26 states saw increases. Experts attributed the growth in police lethality in many communities to a multitude of factors, including worsened economic conditions and high unemployment, declines in mental health, prisoner releases, rises in gun ownership, police forces heavily impacted by COVID-19 illnesses, and an increase in confrontations with organized crime. Data for the first half of the year largely indicated that numbers declined 8 percent in violent deaths in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office, as well as state-level public ministries, investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.
According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 79 percent of the persons killed by police in 2020 were Black, compared with 56 percent of the country’s population that is Black.
Notably, in 2020 Rio de Janeiro State experienced a 32 percent decline in killings by police due to a June 2020 Federal Supreme Court (STF) injunction on police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s poorer communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, except in rare cases with preauthorization. Although as of August the injunction remained in effect, Rio de Janeiro saw increases in uses of lethal force by police during the first half of the year compared with 2020. In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs wielding military-style weapons in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.
According to the Public Institute of Public Security, 804 persons died in Rio de Janeiro State from police interventions in favela communities in the first six months of the year, a 3.3 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020 (778) and a 9 percent decrease compared with 2019 (885). An August study by the Center of Studies on Public Security and Citizenship revealed that Rio de Janeiro’s Civil and Military Police conducted a total of 507 operations in the first six months of the year, a 32 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.
According to a survey carried out by researchers at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), at the request of the news outlet UOL, operations to combat drug trafficking (1,200), disputes between criminal groups (482), and retaliation for killing or attacking security agents (380) were the major motivators of police violence during the last 14 years. A second UFF survey assigned one of five ratings (disastrous, inefficient, slightly efficient, reasonably efficient, or efficient) by considering several factors such as the impacts of operations (e.g., dead, wounded, or imprisoned; the strategic and judicial motivations that justified them; and seizures, whether of weapons, drugs, cargo, or vehicles.) In the survey an “efficient” operation was one that took place through judicial and investigative procedures, complied with search or arrest warrants, resulted in a significant number of seizures (especially of weapons), and did not kill or injure persons. Analysis of the resulting data determined that only 1.7 percent of police operations in the slums of Rio de Janeiro from 2007 to 2020 met the criteria of “efficient,” and an additional 13 percent were rated “reasonably efficient.” Meanwhile, 40 percent were labeled “slightly efficient,” 32 percent were “inefficient,” and 12.5 percent were “disastrous.”
According to media reports and public officials, Rio de Janeiro experienced its deadliest police confrontation in the city’s history during a May 6 operation led by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police’s Coordinator of Special Assets (CORE) and involving 200 police officers. CORE officers led an action against the criminal organization Comando Vermelho in the Jacarezinho neighborhood in the North Zone of the city when they encountered a blockade and heavy fire from armed groups. The operation resulted in the deaths of 28 individuals, including one police officer. Autopsy reports of the 27 civilians killed indicated that at least four victims were shot in the back at a distance of less than three feet, supporting local residents’ and public officials’ allegations that some of these killings were summary executions by CORE officers. Human rights advocates and some investigators assessed as credible reports that some of the criminal suspects, after being shot by police, were denied lifesaving first aid and medical care – a violation of Civil Police regulations and recognized human rights norms. The state’s Civil Police and Attorney General’s Offices were investigating the case. On October 18, a Rio de Janeiro judge accepted the criminal case against two CORE officers, Douglas de Lucena Peixoto Siquera and Anderson Silveira, for the death of Omar Pereira de Silva, who was already injured when he was killed. The officers were charged with murder and procedural fraud and fraud, respectively, after they allegedly planted weapons at the crime scene. The judge ordered the officers’ removal from CORE operations, prohibited them from carrying out police activities, and ordered that they have no contact with any witness in the case. Finally, the judge instructed that the Civil Police transfer their investigation to the state court.
The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to June decreased 33 percent, compared with the same period in 2020. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military and civil police reported 345 deaths from January to June – and 514 in the same period in 2020. Security authorities attributed the reduction in lethality in part to the use of bodycams by Military Police officers. This initiative started in the beginning of June when there were no killings reported among the battalions equipped with the technology (a total of 15 battalions of 134 plus three special units).
In March the Sao Paulo Committee for the Prevention of Homicide in Adolescence of the State Legislative Assembly, in partnership with UNICEF, released a report showing that from January 2015 to December 2020, 1,253 children and adolescents (age 19 years or younger) died as a result of police intervention in the State of Sao Paulo. Children and adolescents represented 24 percent of total victims’ deaths from police intervention.
A special report produced in April by the news agency G1 and based on the Monitor of Violence database, a collaboration between G1, the University of Sao Paulo’s Violence Study Nucleus, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to study all types of violence in in the country, showed a 29 percent increase in the number of killings by Parana state police force operations between 2019 (289) and 2020 (373). Analysis of the first six months of 2021 showed a 14 percent increase, compared with the same period of 2020, with 210 deaths – a state record.
In the state of Santa Catarina, the number of persons killed by police forces increased 9 percent in 2020, compared with 2019, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum data released in April.
In the state of Bahia, the use of lethal force by police increased by 47 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, but a July study by the Public Security Observatory Network showed a decline in deaths resulting from police intervention during the first five months of 2021. At the time of the study, Bahia counted 29 deaths from police intervention, a 36 percent decrease, compared with the same period in 2020.
In June, Rio de Janeiro’s Attorney General’s Office filed a criminal complaint against 13 police officers from the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE) on charges of altering a crime scene by removing the victims’ bodies. The charges stemmed from the investigation of a 2019 operation against drug trafficking by two military police battalions – the Police Special Operations Battalion and CHOQUE – in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro that resulted in 13 deaths. Military police reported that all the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for killings. As of August the case remained open, but no suspects had been arrested and no trial date had been set.
In July the Sao Paulo State Military Police command asked for preventive detention of three police officers after images from a security camera contradicted their version of events concerning the death of a driver during an interaction in Sao Paulo. While the officers claimed the man was killed in a confrontation, the footage showed what appeared to be an execution, and the footage suggested police further tampered with the scene and falsely reported the location of the action. The case was pending trial as of October.
In June investigations into the killing of 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto led to the indictment of three officers from Rio de Janeiro’s CORE. The teenager was killed in May 2020 after he sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times after authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect during the joint operation of the Federal Police and CORE. Two CORE officers were charged with manslaughter without intention to kill, and the third was charged with involuntary manslaughter, because although he fired, he did not strike the victim. As of August the defendants had not been suspended from their regular duties and were awaiting a trial date. In the same neighborhood of Sao Goncalo, on August 20, 17-year-old Joao Vitor Santiago was killed as he returned from a fishing trip with a friend in an alleged exchange of fire between Military Police from the Seventh Military Brigade in São Goncalo and drug dealers during an operation. The Homicide Police Station of Niteroi, Sao Goncalo, and Itaborai was investigating the case.
Regarding the investigation of the June 2020 Rio Grande do Sul State shooting that injured Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida and killed his friend, Dorildes Laurindo, an internal investigation of the Military Brigade indicted the police officers for military crimes and violations of discipline under the military justice system in August 2020, and the officers were placed on administrative duty. In September 2020 the Public Ministry found no intent of killing by the police officers and transferred the case back to the military court for further investigation of a possible crime under the military justice system. As of May, however, the documentation had not been provided to the military prosecutor responsible for the investigation. The State Military Court cited limited personnel and pandemic-related delays to explain the slow progress.
On October 14, Rio de Janeiro’s Military Court of Justice sentenced eight army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro) First Infantry Motorized Battalion to approximately 30 years in prison for the homicide of Black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and Luciano Macedo, a trash collector, in April 2019. Four other soldiers involved in the operation were acquitted.
Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates, including those by militias and narcotics trafficking criminal organizations, were common. According to a survey by the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies, at least 84 candidates for mayor, deputy mayor, or councilor positions were killed during the 2020 municipal campaigns between January and November 2020. An additional 80 politicians survived attacks with firearms or bladed weapons. Most of these crimes remained unsolved and their motivations unknown.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, three Duque de Caixas city councilmen were killed in a span of 10 months. As of November 15, investigators had not established that the cases were connected or politically motivated. The killings prompted the installation of security cameras and meetings with the state government to demand the safety of council members and thorough investigations.
In August, President Jair Bolsonaro approved a law to combat political violence against women. The new law defines political violence against women to be any action, conduct, or omission with the purpose of preventing, hindering, or restricting their political rights, not only during elections, but in the exercise of any political or public function.
In July, Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice sentenced former military police officer Ronnie Lessa and four other persons to four years in prison for obstructing justice by tossing guns into the ocean, including the suspected murder weapon used in the 2018 killing of gay, Black Rio councilwoman and human rights activist Marielle Franco. On July 10, the lead state investigators of the Marielle Task Force, public prosecutors Simone Sibilio and Leticia Emile, resigned for unconfirmed reasons during a reported dispute over a plea agreement related to the cooperation of a key witness. On July 26, the Rio de Janeiro Attorney General’s Office appointed eight new members to the task force. As of August, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, both former military police officers with long-standing ties to the militia group Escritorio do Crime (Crime Bureau), were in a federal prison awaiting a trial date.
The NGO Global Witness reported that 20 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2020, down from 23 killings in 2019. Despite the risk to activists, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators, and Environmentalists remained underfunded. In 2020 the program, which provided protection to more than 600 individuals under threat, received only 21 percent of its projected budget. Press reports described the decrease as a “dismantling” of the program and said that individuals under the protection of the government had once again began receiving threats.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender, including but not limited to, homicide that escalated from other forms of domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women. The law stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,350 femicides in 2020, compared with 1,326 in 2019. According to the National Council of Justice, the number of new cases involving the killing of a woman rose 39 percent in 2020 to 2,788 cases, and courts imposed sentences in 2,016 cases of femicide in 2020 – a 24 percent decrease from the 2,657 sentences in 2019, due to process difficulties in light of the pandemic. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 81.5 percent of the time.
The state of Rio de Janeiro had a total of 42 victims of femicide in the first five months of the year according to the Institute of Public Security. The state of Bahia had 64 cases of femicide in the first six months, according to the Bahian Public Security Secretariat. The Espirito Santo Public Security Secretariat recorded 13 victims in the first five months of the year. The state of Minas Gerais recorded 67 victims of femicide from January to June and 70,450 victims of domestic violence during the same period.
On April 2, justice prosecutor Andre Luiz Garcia de Pinho killed his wife, Lorenza Maria Silva de Pinho. In July the Minas Gerais Court of Justice decided that de Pinho would be brought to trial for aggravated homicide. He remained in pretrial detention after a request for habeas corpus was denied.
NGO and public security representatives reported that, culturally, domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter and that survivors and bystanders often did not report cases of violence. On July 14, police arrested Iverson de Souza Araujo (also known as DJ Ivis), in Fortaleza after videos of assaults against his former wife, Pamella Holanda, were posted by her on her social media account. The public release of the video led to widespread public condemnation, and distribution contracts and music collaborations were cancelled.
According to NGOs and public security data, gender-based violence was widespread. According to the 15th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 60,460 cases of rape in 2020. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. The state of Sao Paulo recorded an average of 34 cases of rape per day in the first quarter of the year, 7 percent higher than the same period of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. Data showed that 75 percent of the victims were girls younger than age 14.
Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. In January, Rio de Janeiro State’s Civil Police announced a new hotline for victims of gender-based violence in an effort to reduce instances of feminicide. During the pandemic the court of justice in the state of Piaui invested in campaigns and online assistance to facilitate access for victims of violence. There were several ways to denounce domestic violence: through the Salve Maria application or calling the Francisca Trindade Center, Maria da Penha Patrol, Esperanca Garcia Institute, Ombudsman of the Public Ministry of Piaui, or Public Defender’s Office. In April in the state of Piaui, requests for protective measures for women victims of domestic violence increased more than 30 percent, compared with the same period in 2020.
During the first quarter of the year, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw a 375 percent increase in preventive arrests for domestic violence, compared with the same period of 2020. A key factor contributing to this increase was the rise of information sharing with the government through electronic means, such as WhatsApp and Online Police. The state also inaugurated an additional 17 salas das margaridas, a dedicated space within police stations to receive women at risk, bringing the total in Rio Grande do Sul to 40.
In July 2020 Rio de Janeiro’s then governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June 2020 domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent, in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August 2020 a police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.
The law recommends health facilities contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and instructs police to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police.
Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. In 2020, 44,400 cases of rape and rape of vulnerable minors were registered, representing 60.6 percent of the total number of rape cases. A “vulnerable” victim is defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. According to the 15th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, 54 percent of these victims were 11 years old or younger.
In Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, a group of five men (two adults and three adolescents) raped and killed an 11-year-old Kaiowa indigenous girl in August. Police arrested the perpetrators, who confessed the crimes, and indicted them on charges of rape of a vulnerable person, femicide, and aggravated homicide. One of them, the girl’s uncle, died in prison three days later, and police were investigating the case as a possible suicide.
On March 12, the STF unanimously decided to invalidate the use of the “legitimate defense of honor thesis” in cases of femicide. The 11 STF justices assessed this thesis contradicts constitutional principles of human dignity, protection of life, and gender equality and, therefore, cannot be applied in jury trials as a defense argument in cases of femicide. The legitimate defense of honor thesis was used in jury courts to largely absolve men who killed women to “protect their own honor,” for example in cases of betrayal in romantic relationships.
On July 28, the federal government approved a law that includes the crime of psychological violence against women in the penal code, assigning a punishment of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The text approved by Congress defines the crime as: “Causing emotional damage to women that can harm and disturb them, or their full development, or that aims to degrade or control their actions, behaviors, beliefs and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, blackmail, ridicule, limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that harm their psychological health and self-determination.”
On May 10, the government of the state of Alagoas inaugurated A Casa da Mulher Alagoana. The center serves women victims of domestic violence and provides professional psychology, advocacy, and social care services. Victims may file a police report and request protective measures in-person at the facility, as well as receive temporary shelter.
In the state of Ceara, the Women’s Reference Center, which offers a psychologist, lawyer, and social worker service and partnership with the Maria da Penha Patrol, received 240 requests for assistance in 2020, but within the first four months of 2021 it responded to 142 requests. According to the center’s director, most victims were financially dependent on their partner, which deepened during the COVID pandemic.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. The law includes actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.
On June 15, the National Council of Justice ruled that Judge Glicerio de Angiolis Silva from Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice should be removed from the bench for two years for morally and sexually harassing public workers and interns at the court of Miracema, in the northwestern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 2015. The victims reported that the judge asked them to send him photographs of them in bikinis, asked them out, and requested them to work late with no reasonable purpose. By law the judge was still entitled to receive his salary while away from his regular duties.
In June the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Police opened an investigation into plastic surgeon Klaus Wietzke Brodbeck on suspicion of sexually abusing more than 95 women patients, including one sedated patient he allegedly raped after surgery.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraceptives and termination of pregnancy as provided for by law. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), persons in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services.
According to UNFPA, in 2020, 89 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods, and skilled health personnel attended to 99 percent of births from 2014 to 2019. UNFPA also reported that adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls for those between the ages of 15 to 19 averaged 53 births for the period of 2003 to 2018. The Ministry of Health reported that the maternal mortality ratio averaged 59 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2018 and was higher among Black women than among white women. Data published in May by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation found that the risk of death of pregnant brown and Black women from COVID-19 was almost twice that of white women and noted that Black women were less likely to have gynecological and prenatal care and travelled farthest to reach a maternity ward.
In May, UNICEF and UNFPA published a report on menstrual poverty experienced by Brazilian girls who lived in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, sometimes without access to basic sanitation services, hygiene resources, and minimal knowledge about the body. More than 700,000 girls had no access to a bathroom or shower in their homes. More than four million girls experienced at least one deprivation of hygiene in schools, including lack of access to feminine care products and basic facilities such as toilets and soap. Nearly 200,000 of these students were completely deprived of the minimum conditions to handle menstruation at school. A study from Girl Up Brazil, a network to end menstrual poverty in the country, found that one in four girls had missed school because they lacked access to feminine products.
In October, President Bolsonaro signed a law to create the Program for the Protection and Promotion of Menstrual Health, a strategy to promote health and attention to feminine hygiene and aims to combat lack of access to hygiene products related to menstruation. The president vetoed a provision contained in the measure to provide free basic hygiene products to low-income students, persons living on the streets, and prisoners because he said the legislation did not establish a funding source. In November the Foreign Trade Chamber reduced the import tax rate from 12 to 10 percent on sanitary pads and baby diapers to make the products more affordable to consumers.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. According to the International Labor Organization, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, but the law was not effectively enforced.